A Gentleman’s Guide to Duelling: Of Honour and Honourable Quarrels is now available from amazon.com.
The most modern duel was fought April 20th, 1967. It was between Gaston Deffere, Mayor of Marseille, and Rene Ribière. After a clash in the National Assembly, Defferre yelled “Taisez-vous, abruti!” at Ribiere and refused to apologize. Ribière challenged and Defferre accepted. The duel took place with epees in a private residence in Neuilly-sur-Seine, and it was officiated by Jean de Lipkowskiin.
Ribière was to be married the following day. Defferre vowed to wound him in such a way as to spoil his wedding night very considerably. The first touch was against Ribière in the arm, but he called for the resumption of the duel. After a second touch in the arm against Ribière, the duel was stopped by Lipkowskiin.
In 1958 Serge Lifar’s ballet, Black and White, was being produced by George de Cuevas’ dance company. During a public argument (whether over the rights to the production or changes made to it in the production, we are unclear) Cuevas slapped Lifar in the face.
Lifar sent seconds to Cuevas to demand an apology, which he refused to do. Cuevas was 73 years old, and Lifar was 54 at this time, but a duel was arranged. The gentlemen came together at Blaru near Vernon in Normandy on March 30, 1958.
After three passes taking approximately seven minutes, Lifar was lightly cut /scratched in the right forearm and the affair ended.
Over 30 newspaper photographers were in attendance and the New York Times reported it “may well have been the most delicate encounter in the history of French dueling.”
You can watch the duel with all the “exciting” commentary of the time.
During a trial about wartime crimes, the opposing lawyers decide to duel after the Paris trial. In 1949 Roger Nordmann (called Pierre Nordmann in The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation) took exception when his brother was deported after denunciation by one of Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour clients. The affair ended after blood had been drawn from Nordmann.
In 1965 Jean-Louis fought a different battle when he challenged de Gaulle in the presidential elections.
From: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle; Nov 14, 1949
PARIS COURT CASE ENDS IN SWORD FIGHT
…They met at dawn at Marnes-la-Coquette, a village near Paris. M. Nordmann was slightly wounded. The duel had been pending for three weeks since a court case which M. Nordmann made veiled accusations that Maitre Tixier-Vignancourt was…
From: Hull Daily Mail; November 12, 1949
…anybody had been hurt. The answer was: “We have nothing to tell you.” Nordmann’s wound was only an inch deep. Mai Ire Tixtier-Vignancourt said that Nordmann fought with eonrase.” Duels are illegal in France…
From: Lincolnshire Echo; November 12, 1949
SWORD DUEL IN THE WOODS AT DAWN
…He told Reuters on the phone—” I can only tell you there was no reconciliation. The duel has changed nothing.” Tixtier-Vignancourt said that Nordmann fought with courage. ” was physically handicapped, but had a high morale,” he said. ” Mv opponent was…
From: Dundee Evening Telegraph; November 12, 1949
A transcript of the event was sold at auction along with other documents relating to the duel.
A newsreel clip of a duel to first blood on May 26, 1938 with duelling epees in France. The duelists, Henri Bernstein (Dramatist) and Edouard Bourdet (Administrator of the Comédie Francaise). Bourdet (white shirt) is hit in the arm and the duel is halted.
Duel between Aurelio Greco and Candido Sassone on October 7, 1922. The duel starts at about 5 minutes into the film with Sassone on the left and Greco on the right.
Purportedly the argument was about a difference of opinion regarding fencing theory and it was dubbed ‘The duel of the Century.’ On the sixth assault Sassone is slightly wounded in the right forearm and thus defeated. While this ended the duel, the parties were not reconciled.
In attendance were none other than Maestro Pessina, Maestro Agesilao Greco and Maestro Ammannato.
While sometimes assigned to Jean Richepin, it was actually his son Jacques Richepin who fought this duel against Pierre Frondaie as reported in the NY Times. The quarrel began when Mr. Frondaie made a comment to Mme. Laparcerie (Richepin’s wife) who was an actress in Frondaie’s play “Aphrodite.” Mme. Laparcerie took exception to the comment and Mme. Frondaie stepped in. An argument quickly ensued between the women.
Richepin asked Frondaie to apologize to his wife for the initial remark and when Frondaie refused a challenge was made.
The duel was arranged for March 13, 1914 at Neuilly. Over 100 celebrities and press were in attendance, including both wives and Richepin’s parents. The wives and family were turned away by the doctor and seconds. They subsequently awaited the results in the house of the horse trainer who owned the property the duel was to be fought on.
The duel was short and ended after Frondaie was wounded in the arm, but the duelists refused to be reconciled.
The duel occurred February 26, 1912 at Neuilly when Paul de Cassagnac (editor of L’Autorite’) challenged Charles Maurras (of L’Action Francais). Maurras wrote an article saying some unkind things about M. Paul de Cassagnac and his brother, Guy (politics of course). Make sure to watch through the video for more dueling near the end.
If you’d like to read the offense, you’ll find a copy of the article here.
The Seconds for Paul Cassagnac were Count Gilbert de Voisins and Baron d’Anthes Heeckeren. The Seconds for Charles Maurras were Mr. Leon de Montesquiou and Lucien Moreau
The encounter was published in the NY Times, which reported the following in an article titled SPILL REAL BLOOD IN A PARIS DUEL; Charles Mauras Wounded in the Arm After Fierce Encounter with Paul de Cassagnac. (transcription below from the youtube video description)
“The two principals are first-rate fencers. As soon as the traditional, ‘Allez Messieurs!’ was utter, Maurras attacked his opponent with remarkable energy, de Cassagnac, who had the advantage of height, replying with equal vigor. The fight was extremely exciting for the onlookers while it lasted. It seemed at one moment as if Maurras had received a thrust in the neck, but fortunately only his beard was touched and this did not prevent him from continuing his offensive tactics, which he did with unabated ardor.
“But then it was his adversary’s turn to attack. Maurras, however, not to be daunted, dealt a vigorous thrust with his arm extended, but a moment later his sword fell from his grasp.
“De Cassagnac had disarmed him this time with a terrible forward movement which could not be checked, and if Maurras’ arm had not protected him he would have been wounded very badly in the chest. His arm was seriously injured.
“This brought the combat to a close.
Maurras next meets Guy de Cassagnac.”
You’ll find more information and pictures of the duel on this website.
A duel in November 1911 for Madame Curie’s honor. Pierre Mortier was a writer for “Gil Blas” and Gustave Tery wrote for “L’Oeuvre.” Tery had written a ‘smear’ campaign on Madame Marie Curie (stating she was “une Polonaise ambitieuse qui s’était, pour la gloire, accrochée aux basques de Curie et s’agrippait maintenant à celles de Langevin.”) and Curie’s friend, Mortier, challenged him to defend her honor.
Gustave Tery had previously fought a duel in 1909 and was wounded by Laurent Tailhade. That experience seems to pay off as Tery wounds Mortier in the arm.
You will find a little more information here.
The duel came from a letter published in a newspaper. It seems that Casella was challenged by Marnold. In the course of the duel Marnold was wounded and the duel was ceased by the director who felt the wound had put Marnold in a position of inferiority.
*another duel is reported in these papers as well that is quite entertaining.
THE LINCOLN EVENING NEWS MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1910
San Francisco Call, Volume 108, Number 180, 27 November 1910
It grew out of a letter published in a royalist newspaper. Marnold was wounded, in the sword arm. Then Rouseier Dorcierres, the director of the duel, who has served in that capacity for more than 100 “affairs of honor,” declared that Marnold was in a condition of inferiority, and refused to allow the duel to proceed.
The Frederick Post, Page 6, December 10, 1910
In the second duel ,which closely followed the first, Mons. Georges Casella was called to the field of honor bv Mons. Marnold, who felt offended
Abraham Lincoln once stepped onto the dueling ground. When queried about it later in life he remarked “If all the good things I have ever done are remembered as long and as well as my scrape with Shields, it is plain I shall not be forgotten.” The notorious duel with James Shields has been almost completely forgotten probably because it did not come to blood shed.
An anonymous letter (signed ‘Rebecca’) to the editor of the Sangamo Journal on September 2, 1842, was published which railed against Shields. Lincoln was a state legislator at the time and James Shields the attorney and auditor of the State of Illinois. Hiding behind the amenity of anonymous writing Lincoln let the personal attacks fly. “Shields is a fool as well as a liar. With him truth is out of the question.” More over he calls Shields conceited by sarcastically quoting Shields as saying ‘Dear girls, it is distressing, but I cannot marry you all. Too well I know how much you suffer; but do, do remember, it is not my fault that I am so handsome and so interesting.’
Some historians believe that Lincoln’s future wife, Mary Todd, help write the letter. Shields asked the editor of the paper for Rebecca’s true identity. Apparently Lincoln had instructed the editor to share with Shields that it was Lincoln.
In proper format, Shields had a letter hand-delivered to Lincoln in Tremont on September 17 (full transcript available here) stating ‘I have become the object of slander, vituperation and personal abuse’ and demanded that only a full retraction ‘may prevent consequences which no one will regret more than myself.’ There was a little back and forth until Shields finally challenged Lincoln to a duel.
Lincoln accepted. He set the conditions of the duel to favor his height and reach in an effort to dissuade Shields from the affair. On September 19 Lincoln wrote a letter detailing his terms: “…the preliminaries of the fight are to be—
1st. Weapons—Cavalry broad swords of the largest size, precisely equal in all respects—and such as now used by the cavalry company at Jacksonville.
2nd. Position—A plank ten feet long, & from nine to twelve inches broad to be firmly fixed on edge, on the ground, as the line between us which neither is to pass his foot over upon forfeit of his life. Next a line drawn on the ground on either side of said plank & paralel with it, each at the distance of the whole length of the sword and three feet additional from the plank; and the passing of his own such line by either party during the fight shall be deemed a surrender of the contest.
3. Time—On thursday evening at five o’clock if you can get it so; but in no case to be at a greater distance of time than friday evening at five o’clock.
4th. Place—Within three miles of Alton on the opposite side of the river, the particular spot to be agreed on by you.”
The plan did not dissuade Shields, so on September 22 both parties crossed the river into Missouri to Bloody Island to settle the matter.
Luckily, shared friends came to the dueling grounds to reconcile the gentlemen. Shields was difficult to dissuade, but purportedly, Lincoln reached up and cut off a willow branch to emphasize his reach. Shields finally backed down and made peace with Lincoln. In fact during the Civil War, Shields was nominated for the rank of Brigadier General in the Union army, but final approval fell to President Lincoln. It was granted.
This list is an ongoing project so if you have anything you’d like to submit for inclusion please email me at email@example.com.
My thanks to Ben Miller for getting this thread started by asking for quotes which warn against fencing in a rash, reckless, or brutal manner. I have expanded that to include what the masters said about brute strength vs actually training to obtain skill.
I want to thank Bob Brooks, Cecil Longino, David Black Mastro, Piermarco Terminiello and [you?] for contributions in this list.
Between 1389 – 1494
“That is why Liechtenauer’s swordsmanship is a true art that the weaker wins more easily by use of his art than the stronger by using his strength. Otherwise what use would the art be?”
-Fiore de’i Liberi
“cunning wins any strength” (Ingegno ogni possanza sforza)
“It is no use to be overly aggressive with striking, or to cut in at the same time against his strokes recklessly as if with closed eyes, for this resembles not combat but rather a mindless peasants’ brawl.”
-Joachim Meÿer’s Longsword section
Meyer addresses those who strike too hard and are disdainfully referred to as a ‘buffalo’:
“The Squinter (Schielhau) breaks into whatever a buffalo strikes or thrusts.”
“And this strike breaks all strikes of a Buffalo – which means peasant – that come downwards from above, as most peasants usually do.”
“Note here that the squinter is a cut which breaks-in the cuts and thrusts of the buffalo (one who acquires victory with power) …”
“The vulgate, although he professes knowledge of swordsmanship, is easy to discover when in times of anger and conflict he forgets his professed skill and commits vulgarity in his manner and actions.”
-Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza: Of the Philosophy of the arms, of its art and the Christian offense and defense
I know not certainly, whether it hath been my earnest desire to encounter you, that raised me earlier this morning than my accustomed hour, or to be ascertained of some doubtful questions, which yester-night* [current: yesternight] were proposed by some gentleman and myself, in discourse of arms: for they held, that although a man learn perfectly the dritto, riverso, the stoccata, the imbroccata, the punta riversa, with each several motion of the body, yet when they hap to come to single fight, where the trial of true valor must end the quarrel, they utterly forget all their former practices. Therefore would I request of you, (if you so please) to know your opinion, whether in single fight a man can forget his usual wards, or use them then with as much dexterity and courage as he [is] accustomed in play.
V. It is very likely, that many are of this opinion, for there are few or none that in cause of quarrel when they come as we term it to buckling, but suffer themselves to be overcome with fury, and so never remember their art: such effect choler worketh*. And it may be some being timorous* and full of pusillanimity*, (which is ever father to fear) are so scared out of their wits, that they seem men amazed and void of fence. Or some may be taken in the humor of drink, or with divers other occasions, that may enfeeble their understanding. And by these reasons well may they forget in fight, what they learned in play: but in them in whom no such effects are predominant, neither are assailed with such accidents, they behave themselves discretely, and are not distempered with any such perturbations: and besides this, I have seen many that being fearful by nature, through daily practice have become courageous, and always so continued. Neither is it possible, but in practice he should obtain courage and increase his valor more than before.”
-Vincentio Saviolo: Third Day Discourse, of Rapier and Dagger
“When your enemy shall press upon you, he will be open in one place or other, both at single & double weapon, or at least he will be too weak in his ward upon such pressing, then strike or thrust at such open or weakest part that you shall find nearest.”
-George Silver: Brief Instructions
“METHODS THAT ONE MUST HOLD AGAINST A BRUTAL MAN
4. If you have to encounter a brutal man that, without misura and tempo, hurls many blows at you with great impetus, you will be able to do two things. First, adopt the interplay of mezzo tempo, as I will teach you in its place, you will strike him in his hurling of the point, either by cut in the hand or in the sword arm. Otherwise, you can leave him to proceed at emptiness with somewhat voiding the vita backwards, and then you instantly drive a point into the face or chest.”
-Ridolfo Capo Ferro
“Some rely upon the spirit alone, which is a very dangerous concept, saying that courage and strength is all that is needed and that in duels and altercations there is no place for the observance of tempo and measure, which are merely subtleties and worthless outside of the salle. In order to prove this charming viewpoint they quickly cite the example of some master of arms who was killed by a simpleton. These people, who have such strange ideas inside their heads, deserve to be pitied more than they merit a response.
Courage and strength are natural gifts but it is easy to be equal to them. Whoever has a sense of honour will never be timid with shame and it is not necessary to have the arm of Rodomonte to reach your enemy’s vital organs.
If two people have to fight and one of them is weaker, according to these people he would not have any chance, a completely false idea. If a rough, strong man with no imaginable notion of how to conduct himself in attack were to arrive and fight with a sword and dagger against someone weaker but experienced in fencing, you would see who would be left dead in the field.
Understanding tempo and measure and knowing how to apply them is no mere subtlety. They are precise, dependable principles; nor do they have to be promoted with fine discourses and mellifluous words, they can be demonstrated with actions.
The example of a fencer killed by a simpleton is ridiculous. Since it happens only rarely, as if by a miracle, it is always recounted, whereas no-one speaks of those killed by fencers because it is an ordinary, unsurprising occurrence.”
-Francesco Ferdinando Alfieri (translation by Piermarco Terminiello)
“And the Reason of the first (which is, any Artist receiving one Thrust for another from an Ignorant) is that when People Assault, it is commonly with Blunts, and when an Ignorant, who undervalueth the Art of the Sword, and trusteth all to his own Forewardness is desired by an Artist to shew his Natural Play, he very well considering that he can receive no prejudice by his being hitt with a blunt Fleuret, Rusheth and Ramb
-William Hope’s The Sword Man’s Vade Mecum
But be sure, whenever you fight, that you are free from passion; for if a man be the best swords-man in the kingdom, and fights when in passion, he disorders himself to that degree, that he cannot make use of all his judgment. If a man comes to fence with sharps or blunts, let him have presence of mind, and be always thinking how to hit him; and no man that understands fencing can have a greater advantage of his adversary, tho’ he fences never so well, than when he is guilty of that foolish thing call’d passion.”
-Henry Blackwell: The English fencing-master, pg 37V
“I shall omit giving you any more lessons, for those I have showed you are sufficient to make you a complete sword’s-man, if you will but practice them very neat; for no man can fence well without he fences gentile, and with a great deal of air and life in his body; that is, every thrust must come free from him with a great deal of ease, without bustling or passion, and these are the signs of a great command in fencing.”
-Henry Blackwell: The English fencing-master, pg 38V
“7th. Patience is defined thus, Let not Passion, Fury, nor Choler, which are absolute Enemies to skill, in no Case prevail, if you do, it will destroy your Judgement.”
-Zachary Wylde: The English Master of Defence
“By Avolting, Slipping and Retireing, and giving the Point, in these cases, a Weak Man is a match for a much Stronger, and it is certainly best to do these if your Adversary be Fool Hardy and press forward, whether he understand the Sword or not, for he may run himself upon your Point; or when he has tired himself, you may then play with him, and do what you please; commonly those People who are unskill’d do thus, the think (and indeed with Reason) that they must not let you Attack, because they do not know how to Defend as they ought, for the Defencive part is the most difficult, therefore they drive on you with great Fury, (whils’t they have Strength) to put you out of your Play, but once that is over they are at your Mercy.
Some Men care not (at least don’t think of it, being only intent upon Hitting their Adversary) if they Receive a thrust, if it be not immediately Mortal, so that they can but give one, but this may properly be called Rashness, or Fool Hardiness.
Command your Temper and you will do much better, than if you give way to your Passion; and if you do Command it, and are Engaged with a Person who can not, you will have very much the Advantage of him, for his Passion will make him Play wild and wide, and consequently exposes himself to be Hit very often, wheras your thoughts not being in Hurry and Confusion, you may Defend your self with ease and judgement, and take an Advantage readily when ever you have a mind, you are the more capable of doing this, because your Strength, Mind and Spirit are not Spent or Exhausted.”
-Donald McBane: The Expert Swordsman’s Companion
“The nicest Part of Fencing consists in the Defensive, and particularly against the Bold Ignorant…No Person ought ever to make any other Use of his Skill in Fencing, than in his own Defence; and then in such a cool and temperate Manner, as neither to be exasperated by Passion, or afraid to exert his judgment; then a Gentleman will reap the benefit of his instruction.”
“But there is a kind of Suppleness in the Joints, and Spring in the Wrist, partly natural in Mankind, and partly acquired by Use and Exercise. This you do not always find in proportion to Man’s Strength; and it is what some Men, with all their Practice, will never attain to. I have seen some, and doubt not, but it has been observed by several others, who with a Body and Arm almost strong enough to fling another over a Wall, with a Stick in the Hand could not hit a Blow half so hard and smart, as another could with half their Strength; they always striking down like a Woman with a straight Arm, without raising or jerking the Wrist. Now I say, that a weak Man, either by Nature or more Practice than a strong Man, may be swifter, and in course stronger in his Thrusts, and his Parades, by that natural Suppleness, or acquired Spring. He therefore may set up for a Candidate in the Art, and make a proportionable Interest in it. But he stands a wretched Chance in attempting the Flanconade upon a stronger Man, and runs little risk, if superior Strength dares it upon him. That Thrust can never be compassed, but by main Force upon the most feeble, and at the same Time the most ignorant Patient. Nothing less is required, to give any Hope of Success in it, but the Strength of a Giant against a Pygmy. And even that vast Superiority of Strength must fail, if the weak Man is industrious in his Parade; for I will venture to say, that there is not the tenth Part of the Strength required in the Parade, that there is in the Thrust; and if the Parade be duly timed (upon which everything of the Sword depends, and yet distinct from Strength) no Strength will carry it, and the very Parry, is a certain unsought-for Thrust, which must go surer into your Adversary’s Body, than any other Thrust you can make, and never can deceive you, because his sword colleagues against him, and by the twisted Lock his binding File has formed, carries you unerringly in.”
-Captain John Godfrey: A TREATISE Upon the Useful Science of Defence.
“May I ask one more question?” said one of my friends. “I have often heard it said that if you don’t know much about fencing the best thing to do is, as soon as you come on guard, to make a sudden rush at the other man before he has time to collect himself.”
“Well,” I replied, “if you wish to make sure of being incurably spitted, that is the most infallible way to set about it.”
– Baron Cesar de Bazancourt: Secrets of the Sword, The Tenth Evening XII.
“Gen. Boulanger . . . from what I learn by the papers, brought about his defeat by his lack of coolness and consequent fury of attack. He rushed blindly on his foe, losing all sight of prudence and skill in the desire to inflict injury. For an expert swordsman to overcome such an attack is an easy matter. He has only to wait coolly for his antagonist to leave an opening and then sail in . . . Between you and me, I think Boulanger was in great luck. A man who employs the tactics he did in the presence of a skillful swordsman will be killed in nine cases out of ten.”